Oto Gutfreund

Cubist Bust

1912–13, cast c.1962–3

Not on display

Oto Gutfreund 1889–1927
Object: 616 × 591 × 445 mm, 71.7 kg
Purchased 1970

Display caption

Gutfreund saw Picasso’s painting when he was studying sculpture in Paris. On his return to Prague he tried to express the principles of Cubism in sculpture. It is thought that this was the last of a series of portraits of the artist's father. Rather than represent the subject's facial features or personality, Gutfreund constructed the figure using geometric volumes, attempting to create a dynamic relationship between the shapes and their surrounding space.

Gallery label, June 2009

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Catalogue entry

Oto Gutfreund 1889-1927

T01234 Cubist Bust 1912-13

Not inscribed
Bronze, 24 1/4 x 23 1/4 x 17 1/2 (61.5 x 59 x 44.5)
Purchased from Mrs Alena Gutfreundová-Novotná through Art Centrum, Prague (Grant-in-Aid) 1970
Exh: Pioneers of Modern Sculpture, Hayward Gallery, London, July-September 1973 (121)
Lit: Josef Císařovský, Oto Gutfreund (Prague 1962), No.68, the original plaster repr. pl.24; Douglas Cooper, The Cubist Epoch (New York 1971), pp.248-9, a different bronze cast repr. p.248

Mrs Alena Gutfreundová-Novotná, the sculptor's niece, has given detailed information about this work in two letters of 5 April and 26 July 1971. She says that the bust was almost certainly a portrait of the artist's father, to whom he was very devoted. 'The best evidence of that relationship is the whole set of portraits, from the first timid, rather inchoate and naturalistic one (1907), through the more realistic one (1910) and the one slightly suggesting Cubism (1911) which is more patent in the relief "Head III", to the entirely Cubist "Head IV" (both 1911). I think I am not mistaken if I consider the "Cubist Bust" the last realisation of Gutfreund's idea of his father; this supposition is supported by the fact that the work was begun in the time of his father's death, in the studio which he had built for his son in the garden of his new house shortly before he died. No wonder Gutfineund specified neither the reliefs nor the bust as his father's portraits; most of his contemporaries would have considered that an act of mockery. The reproduction of Gutfreund's sculpture "Anguish" which was published in the Humoristic Papers (sic!) was presented to my grandfather by his "friends" as evidence that his son had gone mad. Gutfreund's father understood music rather than fine arts, but he had an absolute faith in the artistic integrity of his son and he fully backed his work.'

The artist's father died of cancer in September 1912 after a long illness. 'I have known from my father that the two sons and daughters alternated with their mother in sitting up by their father's bed. Hence I judge that Gutfreund the sculptor had been in his father's house before the latter died. My father's account is also the only evidence I have of the fact that the "Cubist Bust" was coming into existence at that time. I know nothing more about it since no private diary from that time has been preserved.'

She believes that the bust was exhibited for the first time in plaster in the Galerie Neue Kunst Hans Goltz in Munich from 5 to 16 April 1913. 'My information about it is based on Gutfreund's notes concerning the security prices for the exhibition and on the journal The Artistic Monthly. It was an exhibition of the members of the Artists' Group. Gutfreund participated as the only sculptor, together with the painters V. Beneš, E. Filla and A. Procházka and the architects J. Gočár and P. Jának.' Although the Umělecký měsícník (Artistic Monthly), Nos.4-5 of 1913, p.150 mentions this exhibition and the dates 5 to 16 April, there is reason to believe nevertheless that it did not actually take place until 1914. The Library of the Metropolitan Museum, New York, has what appears to be a complete run of Hans Goltz catalogues for 1913, but this exhibition is not among them. Moreover a catalogue published by the gallery in 1923 to mark its tenth anniversary, Zehn Jahre neue Kunst in München, contains a list of all the exhibitions held there from 1912 to 1922, which includes no Czech exhibition in 1913 but lists under 1914:

19. Die Tschechen: Benes, Filla, Gutfreund, etc.
Dr Jiří Kotalík writes (18 July 1975) that it was first exhibited in Prague in the fourth exhibition of the Skupina výtvarných umelcu (Group of Creative Artists) in February-March 1914 as 'Head of Man, plaster of Paris', and that it was not included in the third exhibition of this Group in May-June 1913 nor among the four pieces which Gutfreund contributed to the Erster deutscher Herbstsalon at Der Sturm in Berlin in September-December 1913. He may therefore have continued to work on it until the beginning of 1914.

Mrs Gutfreundová-Novotná says that Gutfreund had seen Cubist paintings by Picasso in Paris as early as 1909-10, while he was studying there for a year in the studio of Bourdelle. A few months after his return to Prague in August 1910 he seems to have begun experimenting with Cubism in sculpture - at first rather timidly but later with increasing boldness - in an attempt to produce some sort of three-dimensional equivalent to what he had seen in the paintings. It is unlikely that he had ever seen any Cubist sculptures when he first began to work on these lines, but there is no doubt that he became familiar later on with Picasso's only early Cubist sculpture, the great 'Head of a Woman' of 1909, of which a cast was acquired by his friend Dr Vincenc Kramář, the art historian and collector. Although this head was not publicly exhibited in Prague until May-June 1913, Mrs Gutfreundová-Novotná's researches have established that Dr Kramář bought his cast from Vollard in Paris on 23 May 1911 and it was dispatched to Vienna where he was living at that time. 'He was making frequent trips to Prague but he moved there as late as November 1912. Only then, therefore, Gutfreund might have seen the sculpture in Dr Kramář 's apartment. It is true, however, that Vienna was not so far away from Prague as it is now, but Mrs Kramář does not recall Gutfreund ever came to see them there.' The 'Cubist Bust', with its emphasis on sharp ridges and projections, seems to show the direct influence of this sculpture by Picasso, but it is also somewhat more abstracted in that it has, for instance, a hole punched right through the form, low down near the base.

Mrs Gutfreundová-Novotná says there is no evidence that Gutfreund was acquainted with Boccioni's sculpture ('There is not a single reference to Umberto Boccioni in Gutfreund's diaries, notes or letters'). On the other hand he was very familiar from childhood onwards with Baroque sculpture, in particular with the work of the sculptor Matyas Bernard Braun, and felt that there were various points in common between modern sculpture and the Baroque.

Gutfreund's Cubist sculptures disappeared into obscurity for many years (he became known almost exclusively for his later, more naturalistic figures) and did not come to light again until the beginning of the 1960s. The original plaster model for the 'Cubist Bust' was rediscovered at this date after having been lost and was cast in bronze for the first time; the cast was given to the National Gallery in Prague. Three further casts, including this one, were made about a year later. The cast in the National Gallery in Prague is no.1 in the edition, and the Tate's cast is no.2.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.347-8, reproduced p.347


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